Niche programs for agriculture
Developer Erik Lund has been involved in IT since its infancy. He has racked up almost 30 years’ experience in the IT industry, including 13 as an IT consultant. But even though Erik has reached the age of retirement, he has no intention of quitting. He is well on the way to creating a potentially lucrative business.
Alongside his consultancy assignments, Erik Lund develops niche programs for agriculture. He lives on a farm himself and the whole thing started when his wife got interested in Gotland Pelt sheep. Soon afterwards, his wife Trine and her colleagues challenged Erik to develop a breeding and registration program.
’Breeding and registering livestock is a complicated endeavour. Before my first program, developed in 1993, hobby breeders were documenting everything with pencil and paper,’ Lund explains.
Today, Trine Lund is one of the ten most important breeders of Gotland Pelt sheep in Denmark. Gotdata, as the program is called, is constantly in use, and Erik has just begun to develop a new version.
The biggest lamb producer
People outside Gotland Pelt breeding circles have also heard about the breeding and registration program. In 2010, Erik was contacted by Frank Hansen, the biggest lamb producer in Scandinavia. He was looking for help managing the logistics related to his livestock.
‘He was running a program developed by the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, but it was complicated to use and they stopped developing it, so Hansen wanted something new,’ Lund explains.
Larger software houses were not interested, as the market is too small to cover development costs. But Lund took on the job even though he knew it was not going to be a goldmine.
The program, called Fåredata (which means sheep data), was developed in cooperation with the lamb producer and his employees. The process took a year, since lamb production covers several phases over an annual cycle.
‘I started in February 2010. The program was supposed to be ready, with the help of earmarking and PDA, to register some 3,500 lambs coming in April.’
And the lamb producer has considerable need for IT. The animals have to be weighed, sick animals have to be treated, the slaughtering starts in the autumn and preparations must be made for the next season: Which ewes and lambs will be included in the breeding program, the right ram combinations must be identified, etc. All of this has now become much easier for Frank Hansen, who cannot do without Erik Lund’s program and happily pays about 700 euros a year for the right to use it. The investment pays off handsomely in an improved bottom line.
The business is expanding
In addition to his own data, lamb producer Frank Hansen also needs to keep data on the lambs he sends to slaughter. He uses the numbers for statistics and in the breeding programme. Up to this point, the small slaughterhouse that Hansen uses has provided handwritten data that has to be entered manually, but now that all the animals have been earmarked, it should be possible to read the data with a PDA. For this reason, the lamb producer was keen to see the slaughterhouse also get a registration program. Erik Lund:
’I have just finished developing the program, which the slaughterhouse is going to start using in February. Thereafter, the lamb producer will receive automated data by e-mail, which can be read into a database with a single click.’
Lund has also received enthusiastic response to this program.
Happy about regulatory requirements
Agricultural programs are a niche area. There are not many developers who take on the challenge because it demands insight and the finances have to work. And they do for Lund, who is aiming to acquire 50 users of Fåredata over time, which he says is a realistic goal.
‘Inspections were rare before 2000, but now you get huge fines and lose your farm subsidies if you do not document everything about every single animal in your flock – for the past five years. I am almost happy about all the regulatory requirements because they generate greater demand for IT solutions.’
But monetary considerations are not the only reason Lund values his IT niche. Purely in terms of programming, he finds the work very exciting.
‘There are so many aspects you have to consider in relation to breeding programs, for instance. Based on the rules from the Veterinary and Agricultural School, I developed a function for Gotdata that calculates the coefficient of inbreeding for nine generations back. The underlying mathematical computations are incredibly complex, but it worked.
Developing programs and solving mathematical puzzles in particular help keep the 67-year-old IT consultant at the top of his game. When asked whether he has felt prejudice on the part of his customers, the answer is no.
’I have never experienced overt age discrimination. I cannot say for sure that a client has never passed me over in favour of a younger consultant, but I do not believe that has happened. One of the great advantages of being a consultant is that your age doesn’t matter. All that counts is what you deliver.’
In return, there is a tremendous advantage to maturity. The experience. Both in professional terms, since he has an arsenal of previous solutions to draw upon, and in human terms, because he has a feeling his age makes it easier to talk to all kinds of people – perhaps because he has proven his worth. And that experience will not go to waste.
’As long as I have ideas and customers who can use my experience and skills, I have no intention of retiring.’